Jérôme Bel

HAU, Berlin


Jérôme Bel, Gala, 2015, Performance Dokumentation, HAU, Berlin

Jérôme Bel, Gala, 2015, performance documentation, HAU, Berlin

Enter downstage centre: a projection of a theatre nearly identical to the one in which you sit. In the image, decorously arranged rows of empty, red velvet seats face a red velvet curtain draped from ceiling to floor. The image then disappears and is replaced by another empty theatre, followed by another. A ten-minute slideshow unfolds, depicting stages and theatres around the world. With each new image, the camera angle changes perspective – right, centre stage, left and back – completing a full circle. The opening sequence to Jérôme Bel’s latest project Gala primes the audience for an experience in multiplicity: grand opera houses, small independent theatres, outdoor amphitheatres and beachfront stages. An effect, in sum, that communicates the universality-in-difference that is the theme of the subsequent live performance.

After the projected amuse-bouche ends, the curtain opens. Standing at the foot of the stage is a repurposed oversize calendar of Mark Rothko’s ‘multiforms’ (1946–49) – a sly wink to the audience that the ensuing per­formance should be read as a study in form. Each page is flipped, revealing simple handwritten terms from the canons of dance history – ballet, waltz, Michael Jackson, improvisation in silence, solo, company, etc. One by one, the dancers take to the stage, responding to the individual terms. Individual performances of pirouettes and grands jetés from ballet and Michael Jackson’s moon­walk are followed by waltz duets and group performances. Throughout the series of exercises, the dancers casually perform their own learned and/or imagined version of the specified prompts. Solo and company dance routines using modern dance, folk dance, Hawaiian dance, baton twirling, electro and hip-hop allow each dancer to feature his or her individual strengths and weaknesses.

For each production in different cities, casting is held locally to source two ballet dancers, two teenagers, two retired people, two kids, two actors and two disabled people, and so on. The work brings together both professional dancers and amateurs – Bel’s use of ‘amateurs’ however, focuses on the original French sense of the word meaning ‘a lover of’ rather than the common use of the term ‘unskilled’. Whereas traditional dance companies often aim for uniformity, for Bel there is no right or wrong way to move, and Gala explores how interpretations of aesthetic form play out in the imaginations and expectations of diverse dancers and audiences.

At times, it seems that Bel is trying to undermine the ideas of perfection and hier­archies in society, reacting to status-quo expectations of social systems. In the past, he has cited post-Structuralist theory as point of reference, though with this new work, he introduces a supportive and constructive analysis of social organization. One of the goals of Gala, with its pluralistic vision, is to create altruistic portraits of each person as a dancer attempting his or her best. The result accounts for an emphasis on vulnerability, placing the performers’ hopes and imagination on display. In Gala, judgements and hierarchies are equalized as each of the dancers’ interpretations become equally meaningful. The function of the amateur is not to make qualitative critical assessments of good or bad, but to promote inherent potential.

Arielle Bier is a writer and curator based in Berlin.

Issue 21

First published in Issue 21

Sept - Nov 2015

Most Read

Tate Modern, London
London’s fourth plinth artists announced; a new fund to protect cultural heritage in war-torn areas
Annika Eriksson, The Social, 2017, wallpaper and objects on a shelf, 500 x 450 cm. Courtesy: The artist and Moderna Museet, Malmö
Moderna Museet, Malmö, Sweden
Paul Scheerbart, Nusi-Pusi, 1912. Courtesy: Berlinische Galerie/Kai-Annett Becker
From a short history of plagiarism to Trisha Brown's walk: what to read this weekend
Q. What is art for? A. To tell us where we are.
The work of filmmaker James N. Kienitz Wilkins on the occasion of his inclusion in the 2017 Whitney Biennial film...
Trisha Brown has died, aged 80; two new appointments at London’s ICA; controversy at the Whitney
A round-up of the best shows to see in the city ahead of this week’s Art Basel Hong Kong
How should the artistic community respond when an art space, explicitly or implicitly, associates itself with right-...
Charlie Fox on a new translation of Hervé Guibert's chronicle of love, lust and drug-addled longing
Three highlights from the New York festival promoting emerging filmmakers
Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, USA
A report and the highlights from a show themed around fluidity, flux, botany and the subterranean
From growing protests over the gentrification of Boyle Heights to Schimmel leaving Hauser & Wirth, the latest from...
kurimanzutto, Mexico City, Mexico
Migros Museum für Gegenwartskunst, Zurich, Switzerland
The body is a troubled thing ...
Sir Howard Hodgkin dies aged 84; finalists for Berlin’s Preis der Nationalgalerie 2017 announced

From the Women's Strike to a march that cancels itself out: what to read this weekend
The most interesting works in the IFFR’s Short Film section all grappled with questions of truth, honesty and...
With the reissue of their eponymous debut album, revisiting the career of legendary Berlin art project / punk band Die...
Galeria Jaqueline Martins, São Paulo, Brazil 

Tramway, Glasgow, UK
A work by self-taught artist Martín Ramírez
Munich’s Haus der Kunst embroiled in Scientology scandal; Martín Ramírez to inaugurate the new ICA LA
If politics today obsesses over the policing of borders, art in France is enacting multiple crossings
A new video installation from Richard Mosse investigates the refugee crisis
Gustav Metzger has died aged 90; director of the Met resigns
What draws us to certain stories, and why do we retell them? 
It’s time that the extraordinary life and work of Anya Berger was acknowledged

Latest Magazines

frieze magazine

Nov - Dec 2016

frieze magazine

Jan - Feb 2017

frieze magazine

March 2017